Scaling from Species to Vegetation: NGEE-Arctic’s Plant Functional Type Classification


Amy Breen1* (, Verity Salmon2, Colleen Iversen2, Jitendra Kumar2, Daryl Yang3, Shawn Serbin3, Fengming Yuan2, Benjamin N. Sulman2, Stan Wullschleger2


1International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska–Fairbanks, AK; 2Climate Change Science Institute, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN; 3Environmental and Climate Sciences Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY



The Arctic system is highly sensitive to climate change, exerts key land-feedbacks relevant for global climate dynamics, and harbors a range of vegetation types comprised of plant species with unique traits including mosses and lichens. For the future, a widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation is predicted. Understanding and predicting how these redistributions affect climate is essential for reducing uncertainties in climate projections. Plant functional type (PFTs) provide a necessary framework for Earth system models (ESMs) to reduce the complexity of interactions between plants and their environment and predict vegetation responses to, and effects on, ecosystem processes.

PFTs represent a classification scheme between species and broad vegetation types based on shared similar characteristics (e.g., growth form) and roles (e.g., physiological property). An underlying assumption is that the functional role of vegetation can be identified by these linked sets of traits constrained by resources, based on the hypothesis of functional convergence. Researchers share: (1) the hierarchical classification scheme developed for use in the E3SM Land Model vegetation process modules as part of NGEE-Arctic phase three, including a crosswalk with the most common PFT classifications previously put forth for the Arctic; (2) methods to parameterize vegetation types and their PFTs; and (3) examples of remote sensing and modeling efforts in phase three that utilize the classification.